SOUTH Downs planners have stepped in to stop potentially harmful development in the Meon Valley.

For the first time, the national park authority has removed planning rights for a field at Bere Farm, Soberton, following concerns that the owner was preparing to subdivide it with fences.

Its planning committee issued its first article 4 direction since it took over local planning in April 2011.

The 20-hectare field has been recognised for its contribution to local views by the Soberton and Newtown Village Design Statement.

The article 4 direction removes ‘permitted development’ rights for fences and gates to help protect the panorama. It does not prohibit their erection but means that planning permission is needed beforehand.

The Government advises that local authorities should consider making article 4 directions only in exceptional circumstances.

Tim Slaney, director of planning, said: “The land in question, formerly an arable field, has recently been levelled, planted with grass and a new gated access created – this is quite legal but in light of the special nature of this particular landscape we are concerned that no further work is carried out without planning consent.

“An article 4 direction is something we take seriously but this is an exceptional case and the Planning Committee felt that it was necessary as part of our duty to care for the National Park’s special landscapes.”

Planning applications for access to the field have already been submitted and are pending consideration.